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Where did it all go wrong for Wales against Scotland?

12 Feb 2023 8 minute read
Wales’ players appear dejected after the final whistle against Scotland. Photo Andrew Mulligan PA Images

Simon Thomas

The records are tumbling at the start of Warren Gatland’s second spell in the Welsh hotseat and certainly not in the way he would have wanted.

Last weekend, he suffered his heaviest home defeat in the Six Nations as Wales coach, with Ireland triumphing 34-10 at the Principality Stadium.

Now he has been on the receiving end of the worst ever Welsh result against Scotland with the 35-7 hammering at Murrayfield surpassing the 35-10 loss up in Inverleith way back in 1924. That’s some pretty painful re-writing of history.

Gatland has also seen a personal record of note come to an end. He had never previously lost to the Scots as Wales head coach, winning all 11 matches against them in his first stint at the helm.

That run came to a shuddering halt up in Edinburgh as his team were outscored by five tries to one, with the game turning into a Finn Russell-inspired demolition job in the second half.

It’s the first time Wales have lost the opening two games of the Six Nations since the pre-Gatland era in 2007. That year ended with them bombing out at the group stage of the World Cup with defeat to Fiji in Nantes.

The global tournament is back in France again this autumn and the Fijians are once again pool opponents. As things stand, Gatland has a big job on his hands to avoid a similar fate, with Wales in a pretty sorry state right now.

First, there’s the little task of trying to avoid the wooden spoon and a whitewash in this Six Nations, with England up next in Cardiff to be followed by testing trips to Paris and Rome. It’s not a good place to be.


So where did it all go wrong against the Scots? It had been a contest in the first half with the youngsters in the Welsh pack giving a decent account of themselves, but after the break it was a brutal watch as Gatland’s gang were increasingly outplayed and outclassed.

Unfortunately, it was a very similar story to last week in terms of the overall nature of the game. Once again, it was a tale of starkly contrasting outcomes when it came to entries into the opposition 22.

Ireland had handed out a lesson with their clinical, cutting edge in attack and Scotland were to do the same.

Last week, Wales made 11 entries into the Irish 22 and scored just one try. This week the stats were even worse. Once again, they only crossed the whitewash once but this time off 13 entries, with the solitary score coming against 14 men.

By comparison, the Scots needed just eight incursions for their five touchdowns.

A pattern is developing and a very worrying one at that.

Lack of creativity

Speaking on the BBC after the game, Jonathan “Jiffy” Davies summed the situation up pretty succinctly.
“My problem is the lack of creativity behind. That has been our problem for a number of years. Today they were one-dimensional. They weren’t accurate, they were slightly clueless to be honest, so that’s what Wales have got to work on,” said the former dual code star.

“The youngsters in the forwards stood up and did themselves justice. That will be the future of the Welsh side.

The big difference was behind.

“It’s not easy to create opportunities in international rugby. That’s why it’s so important when you do create them, you have to finish them.

“Scotland did that so well in the second half, with the vision of Finn Russell. Every time they created something, they invariably finished it off with their accuracy and execution.”

When you go through the tape, Wales’ inability to take their opportunities inside the opposition 22 is painfully clear.

There were a couple of glaring examples midway through a first half during which they badly failed to capitalise on dominating possession and territory.

Having kicked a hard-earned penalty to the corner, they were unable to win the resulting close-range lineout with Ritchie Gray getting a hand to the ball in the air.

Then, a minute or two later, they had an attacking five metre scrum, but Tomos Williams lost the ball as he sniped off the base with the backs then coming offside to gift a relieving penalty.

Having squandered two chances, they opted to go for goal off the next after being rewarded at a scrum, only for Dan Biggar to pull his kick to the left of the posts.

That was soon followed by them going through eight phases in the Scottish 22 but all to no avail, with poor protection allowing Jamie Ritchie to nip in and win a penalty over the ball.


They finally managed to turn pressure into points when the hosts were reduced to 14 men with try-scoring hooker George Turner binned for a swinging arm to the head of George North, as skipper Ken Owens rounded off a lineout drive.

But then in the final play of the half, it was normal service restored as a golden opportunity went begging, with the ball going through the hands of Rio Dyer as he had the line at his mercy following an around-the-back pass from Biggar.

That meant Wales trailed 13-7 at the break when they should really have been ahead given the balance of play.

There was to be further profligacy on the resumption, as Tomos Williams broke ahead inside the Scottish 22 only for Liam Williams to be penalised for taking Pierre Schoeman out beyond the ruck. Then, just minutes later, came a spot of Keystone Cops confusion at an attacking lineout allowing the hosts to steal and counter.

Wales had had their chances, they had blown them and they were to pay the price, as Scotland showed them how it should be done.

Finn Russell

It now became the Finn Russell show. He changed the momentum of the game with a raking 50-22 and then proceeded to go through his full box of tricks.

He set up two tries for winger Kyle Steyn, the first via an exquisite pass out of the side door, the second off a pinpoint cross-kick as he fully exploited the absence of sin-binned full-back Liam Williams.
Just to further illustrate the level of contrast, Wales had two more chances around 15 minutes from time, but again there was to be no end product.

First replacement prop Rhys Carre was clean through a gap only for the ball to be dislodged from his grasp by Matt Fagerson and then a promising lineout maul drive went to ground conceding a defensive scrum.

Once more it was then over to Russell to rub salt in the wounds, as he put in the cheekiest of chips to Duhan van der Merwe which carved out the path for the bonus point try from Blair Kinghorn and then came a visionary long pass for Matt Fagerson to pouch the fifth.

It was somehow fitting that the game should end with the visitors yet again failing to make the most of an incursion deep into the opposition 22 as Rhys Webb was penalised for holding on.

That ensured it was to be a record win for Scotland in this fixture on what was a very dark day for Welsh rugby.


If there are positives, it’s to be found in the performance of the rookies up front, particularly in the first half, with Exeter duo Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza going well at the lineout and in the loose, while Tommy Reffell and Jac Morgan had their moments over the ball.

These youngsters provide some hope for the longer term future, but the short to mid-term future of this Welsh team is looking pretty grim.

The attacking game just isn’t up to scratch and there are also issues in defence, with 28 tackles missed to add to the 33 versus Ireland.

Giving his thoughts after the Murrayfield mauling, skipper Ken Owens said: “We had a really good first half performance and were slightly unlucky not to go in ahead at half time.

“In the second half we went back to back errors and put pressure on ourselves and allowed them to come at us. You give a team like Scotland front-foot ball, they are going to punish you.”

The Scarlets hooker added: “It’s early days with a new coaching staff and some new players coming in. We need to work hard and hopefully turn the corner against England. We have just got to grind out a win, find a win and start building that momentum.

“When you are winning and you have got that momentum it’s hard to lose and the flip side to that is the same.

“We believe in what we are trying to achieve, we need to stay tight, keep working hard and keep trying to deliver.”

Suffice to say, there is a lot of work to be done after another unwanted record-breaking day.

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Stuart Stanton
Stuart Stanton
1 year ago

Haven’t watched it yet, seems every bit as disappointing as that bad defeat of the Howley led team a few years back. Arguments on the pitch then as I well remember. Wrote to the WRU to ask for my money back after that adding up train and ticket costs. No reply, So who is going to be No. 10 against England, and all the other numbers from there to 15?

George Thomas
George Thomas
1 year ago

Some difficulties need to be expected: most teams aim to peak for World Cup nowadays so sides like Scotland are 85% of what they want to be taking into that tournament whereas Cymru/Wales are 15% ready due to late coaching changes. Some positives can be taken: the younger players are showing moments of promise, the younger players are being given a chance and Gatland understands international rugby in a way Pivac never did. Ospreys look like they’re becoming a real side on back of some young Welsh talent. Some hard truths to be told as well: we don’t have any… Read more »

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
1 year ago

The Welsh warriors have become conscientious objectors against those who want their blood on and off the battlefield. Yet, no-one wants to say it.

1 year ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Indeed. No fight in the dog it seems. I wonder why? Ha, that’s me being sarcastic!

1 year ago

Warren Gatland was good for Wales during his first term and cannot be expected to perform an immediate miracle at the beginning of his second. He has a major task ahead of him. The team are a shambles especially when it comes to discipline. Even the under-20s have the same problem.

1 year ago

1. The Youngsters have been brought in to late 2. The old timers have stayed on for a year or two too long 3. This obsession over Having a quota on who should be in certain positions 4. Developing a self destructive nature in an effort of gaining someone’s favour. What’s hasn’t gone wrong in the last ten years. Gatland winning those title were painting over the Cracks.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
1 year ago

Will the person who decided against giving Shaun Edwards the longer term contract he asked for, please step forward – you should apologise and step down from your job!

Paul Hoskins
Paul Hoskins
1 year ago
Reply to  Cwm Rhondda

I agree! That single decision must be one of the most self destructive the WRU have ever made. It made no sense. What may have been a minor saving in his salary has cost the WRU far, far more in loss of income from Wales’s low status in the Six Nations.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 year ago

It is going to take time, this is a relatively young team hopefully it will learn from its mistakes and covert more of its chances in the future.

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